Purim: To Revel or not to Revel?

The two daughters of Ohad Ben Ami being held hostage in Gaza hand a Purim delivery to Kneset Member Benny Gantz

Israelis conflicted as to how to celebrate Purim this year

In a somber reality check, family members whose loved ones are being held in Gaza distributed Purim gifts to Knesset members, but rather than the typical sweets, the packages contained the presumed diet of the hostages: a quarter pita, a spoonful of cheese and two olives.


With 120 gifts, one for each member of Knesset, the families were met with a mixed reception  at the Israeli parliament this week. While some accepted the gift and spoke with the families, including Arab members of Knesset, some ignored them, the families said.


“The families of the hostages hope that the next time they come to the Knesset, they will receive attention from each of the 120 Members of Knesset who are responsible for bringing their loved ones home,” The Hostages Families Forum Headquarters said in a news release.


The hostages have been in captivity for nearly six months.


(Photos and videos from The Families Headquarters)

During Purim, people exchange gift packages called “mishloah manot.” The holiday and this particular tradition are based on the biblical story of Esther.

“Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” Esther 9:20-22”

The Jews in the Persian empire were saved from impending annihilation and the devious plan of Haman, something Israelis find all the more poignant this year. Nevertheless, the country is conflicted as to how to engage in the holiday. 

 

TO CELEBRATE THIS YEAR—OR NOT?

But since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel and subsequent war in Gaza, everyone of every religion in Jerusalem is conflicted as to how to approach the holidays. 

 

In Gaza, a reported 30,000 have been killed, a million displaced and humanitarian aid is scarce. In Israel 1,200 were killed on Oct. 7, 250 soldiers killed in action since then and 130 hostages remain in Gaza.

That prompted the Christians to cancel Christmas celebrations and they plan to tone down Easter observances as well. Now, during Ramadan, Muslims gathering at Damascus Gate outside the Old City are subdued as opposed to festive nights that marked previous Ramadans after the breaking the daily fast.

While Israeli Jews observed a quieter version of Hanukkah, most schools are observing Purim and the city of Jerusalem is planning to go ahead with a parade that was planned before the war started. The parade—with 30 floats and seven stages—will take place for the first time in 42 years. 

 

“The parade this year is more than a Purim event, but a victory of spirit and standing strong,” said Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion.

But families of the hostages are outraged. Ella Metzger, whose father-in-law of Yoram Metzger, is in Hamas captivity said it should be “scaled down.”

“It’s not appropriate this year. Among us, there are too many families in mourning, holding onto the fact that their loved ones have been in captivity for almost six months,” she said. “Everything must be done to bring them back.”


PURIM IS SUPPOSED TO BE A JOYOUS HOLIDAY


The schools typically send home a calendar for the holiday which goes something like this covering a full two to three weeks, in this case in March:

  • Pajama day.
  • Crazy hat day.
  • Props and accessories day.
  • Backwards day.
  • Gift exchange day.
  • Finally, costume day.
  • And, only then, two days off from school!

And with this we essentially start the countdown to the end of the academic year, which isn’t until June 30. In a month, Israeli schools will have off again for Passover, which God commanded to be a week-long holiday but has morphed into two weeks off from school.

 

And, if like my kids you’re in a school that promotes coexistence and all the holidays must be observed, its even more complicated. So for instance, while all Israeli schools are off on Sunday and Monday for Purim, the following week we have off for Easter Sunday and Easter MONDAY. Then at the end of Ramadan we will have several days off for Eid il-Fitr followed by Passover and then the national holidays, Shavuot and Eid Il-Adha. 

 

All of this between now and June 30.

 

We don’t exactly make up for it at the beginning of the year. School begins on Sept. 1 but real routine does not begin until after the fall holidays which usually end in early October. That means, in essence, the Israeli school year is stable only from November until February—with a week off for Hanukkah in December (unless there’s a pandemic or war and then it’s closed again).

 

The only dates you can count on every year are Sept. 1 and June 30, the only dates connected to the Western Gregorian calendar. The rest of the holidays are based on the Jewish and Muslim calendars.

 

The Jewish holidays stay in the season because someone presciently added a second month of Adar (a leap month!) which keeps the months aligned with the seasons. On the other hand, the shorter year of the Muslim calendar is not corrected with an extra month so the holidays move around the year. When my kids started school years ago Ramadan was in the summer so the holiday didn’t affect the school year. But now we’ve got two major Muslim holidays during the school year, Ramadan and Eid al-Adha.

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